The Montana judge urged to resign after imposing a 30-day prison
sentence for the rape of a 14-year-old planned a re-sentencing hearing
for Friday afternoon, but it was blocked by the state supreme court.
A Montana judge has sparked outrage once again — this time for what
attorneys on both sides say was an improper attempt to backtrack on a
lenient rape sentence, one that led to pressure from around the world
for the judge to resign.
District Judge G. Todd Baugh planned a resentencing hearing for Friday
afternoon, saying his original 30-day prison sentence of teacher
Stacey Rambold for raping a 14-year-old was incorrect and the case
instead requires a minimum of two years. (Technically the sentence was
for 15 years, suspended except for 31 days, with credit for one day
The Montana Attorney General’s office sought to block the hearing,
saying only the Montana Supreme Court has the authority to fix
sentencing mistakes and the hearing would interfere with the appeal
the office is filing. Defense attorney Jay Lansing agreed in a court
briefing that a Friday hearing by Baugh would create confusion.
The high court on Friday afternoon blocked the hearing and ordered
Judge Baugh to enter a written sentencing for Mr. Rambold. Baugh never
signed a written sentencing order after making his oral pronouncement
in the case.
When Baugh delivered the original sentence Aug. 26, he said the victim
was “older than her chronological age” and “as much in control of the
situation” as Rambold, who was in his late-40s at the time.
Baugh’s comments brought protesters out onto the streets in Billings
by the hundreds and have led to more than 56,000 signatures online
from people calling for his resignation.
Baugh apologized last week for his comments about the victim in a
letter to the editor of the Billings Gazette.
His attempt to hold a hearing Friday may have been a way “to have a
do-over, recognizing that he did something wrong… but I think the
demand for him to resign was the correct demand,” says Sheena Rice,
who helped plan the rally last week as a senior organizer at the
Montana Organizing Project. At that rally people called not only for
the judge to step down, but also for a legal review of his other rape
trials and for education in the legal community about the damaging
effects of victim-blaming language in rape cases.
While this case has drawn wide attention, it’s fairly typical for
victim blaming and other “minimizing of sexual assault cases” to
occur, particularly in situations that involve teachers and students
or that don’t fit traditional notions about rape, says Jennifer Long,
director of AEquitas: The Prosecutors’ Resource on Violence Against
Women, in Washington. “Adolescent victims are consistently blamed for
either seducing their rapist or for some other behaviors.”
Members of the public have stepped up to protest in previous cases,
such as the teen rapes in Steubenville, Ohio, and “to educate their
own community and beyond about the importance of not victim-blaming,”
Ms. Long says, “but it seems that we are still stuck in this cycle…
where [some of] the very people who should know this information —
judges, prosecutors, and other professionals — still believe in the
myths and still engage in very dangerous practices.”
In Montana, the age of consent is 16. Rambold was charged in 2008 with
three counts of intercourse without consent (commonly known elsewhere
as statutory rape) for actions that started when Cherice Morales was
When Cherice was 16 and the case was still pending, she killed
herself. Prosecutors deferred trial at that point based on conditions
such as Rambold entering a treatment program and not having
unauthorized conduct with children. They went forward with prosecution
after he violated those terms. Rambold pleaded guilty to one count in
Baugh’s failed attempt to hold a new hearing Friday could make it
easier to demand that he resign or be removed, says Marian Bradley,
president of the Montana chapter of the National Organization for
Ms. Bradley is also helping to organize a Justice4Cherice campaign,
which includes a Facebook page and a way for people to file formal
complaints with the Montana Judicial Standards Commission. She says
hundreds of such complaints are in the works and eventually she
expects thousands; because a complaint requires a notarized signature,
it’s not as easy as signing a petition.
Baugh would be up for reelection in 2014. The Judicial Standards
Commission can recommend to the state supreme court that he be
“What I’m hearing from people throughout the world… is that they are
outraged at the victim-blaming,” Bradley says. It’s like they’ve heard
one too many times comments such as the controversial statements by
former Missouri Rep. Todd Akin about “legitimate rape.”
“People are done,” she says. “Men and women, young and old, people of
all races and religions, they’re stepping up.”
After the rally last week, Bradley says, Cherice’s mother told her
that she had felt alone when Baugh handed down the original sentence,
but that when people in the community called for change, it helped
restore her faith in people.
It’s not the first time Montana has seen controversy over rape trials.
In the spring, the University of Montana at Missoula entered into
agreements with the US Departments of Education and Justice stemming
from complaints about how campus sexual assaults and harassment were
handled over a period of several years.
To help promote a better understanding of best practices in handling
sexual assault cases, organizers such as Ms. Rice in Billings are
beginning a dialogue in the legal community about possibly requiring
members of the Montana bar to have continuing education that includes
the issue of victim-blaming language.